Group Storytelling: Format and Story Starters

The tools of any online platform will influence your choices of how to present information and how to conduct activities. I continue to lead large live streams of 200+ students a few times a week. I’m using the app Hallo as my platform, and it allows up to four students to hop on camera with me. Everyone is eager for speaking time, so I usually try to fill up all four “seats” for each round, whether it’s a discussion or some other activity.

A recent live stream was devoted to storytelling. Screensharing isn’t possible at this time, but we do have a live chat for questions, comments, and short written explanations. Being mostly limited to our cameras and microphones helps us focus on the targeted skills: speaking and listening.

Whether you’re teaching a group class on Zoom or another video conferencing platform, my approach will likely work for you as well.

1. We began with a quick review of the basic story elements: characters, setting, plot, conflict, climax, and resolution (we agreed to create mostly happy endings). I supplied the definitions, and students recalled the terms. If more support was needed, I had volunteers offer their explanations and examples on camera.

2. Students were brought on camera in groups of four for up to 20 minutes. Those not on camera were able to contribute ideas and comments in the chat.

3. For each round, I supplied the story starter, which I prepared in advance, and then each student got a turn to continue the story. Helpful listeners and I noted key words and useful expressions in the chat.

4. At the end of each story, members of the group suggested a story title.

5. I tried to remind students after each round that they could practice retelling any of the stories later. Some are members of a group chat that allows both text and voice messages. Voice recordings on a message board are a wonderful way to encourage follow-up practice. I gave a short recap after each story ended as a model.

6. Toward the end of our live stream, we transitioned into real stories as opposed to made-up ones. A volunteer modeled the importance of time frame and sequence markers as he recalled a personal experience.

You’re welcome to use my story starters or write your own. Consider the length. Many story starters online are a single sentence. I opted to give a bit more to work with and write 2-3 sentences. View my Story Starters_handout.

An alternative to giving the first few lines is to give the characters, the setting, and the central conflict. I got a kick of the Scholastic’s Story Starters. This interactive tool works like a slot machine and lets you choose different combinations of story elements for your selected genre (adventure, fantasy, or sci-fi). One of my selections: [Describe a very unusual day for] [a scatterbrained] [detective] [who solves a crime]. If you’re working with younger learners and able to screenshare, it’s terrific. For adults, it’s not always age-appropriate, but you might be inspired by the idea. You could prepare three piles of cards for different main characters, settings, and possible plotlines. Select combinations until the group agrees:
A [retired American doctor] is [on a plane] [trying to enjoy a vacation].
A [young couple] is [at a sport event] [feeling shocked to be next to a celebrity].

Featured photo by DarkWorkX retrieved from

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